Danielle Chase: From Ice Sheets to Ice Cream

danielle chase

Danielle Chase, a Ph.D. student and advisor in the Complex Fluids Group at Princeton’s school of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering says about her work, “I’m having fun. I like all the projects.”

The fun she is having is a common theme during a recent Zoom chat.

“The people in my lab are working on many projects at the same time,” says Chase, who entered Princeton in the fall of 2017. “There is always exciting research happening and a lot to be learned from the people around me.”

Chase has been working under Professor Howard Stone since 2018, researching, among other things: experiments and mathematical modeling of fluid-driven fracturing in porous media, relaxation of a fluid-filled blister on a porous substrate, and experiments on the motion of particles near rough surfaces.

Her first project focused on developing a lab experiment to study the relaxation dynamics of a fluid-filled blister on a porous substrate. Working with collaborators, her experiment was combined with a model and field data from the Greenland Ice Sheet to study the relaxation dynamics of ice sheet uplift following the drainage of surface lakes. The timescale for the ice sheet relaxation can be used to understand the hydrologic structure beneath the ice sheet.

“It was really interesting to learn about this phenomenon and to see the application of the lab experiment which can be held in my hand to help understand the physics of an ice sheet which is many orders of magnitude larger,” Chase says.

“Danielle is a joy to work with in researching and teaching,” Professor Stone shared. “She is skilled in both experiments and mathematical modeling. Also, she writes very well and is critical of her own work which helps her develop better ideas for advancing her research questions.”

Chase came to Princeton after graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota in 2017. She was born in Minnesota and had lived there her entire life before enrolling at Princeton.

“I thought maybe I’d do engineering,” she says about her early path. “Staying in Minnesota had a financial benefit and they have a good engineering school.” In high school, she liked working on math and physics problems. “I liked math,” she says. “it was like a puzzle or a game.”

Chase credits both an “amazing professor” and runs along the Mississippi River for her interest in fluid mechanics. She noticed that fluid mechanics were everywhere during her runs and “started to think about the physics part of water.” She decided to apply to a summer research program focusing on microfluidics.

Prior to Princeton, she had done research work at the University of Michigan and New York University. At Michigan she designed a multi-layer microfluidic pipette aspiration device and at NYU, an optical microfluidic biosensor for detection of immune cell secreted cytokines for immune disease diagnostics.

Among her awards at Princeton is the Walbridge Fund Graduate Award for Environmental Research for her innovative research on environmental topics and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She is most proud of the President’s Student Leadership and Service Award from the University of Minnesota, given to only around one-tenth of one percent of students, for exceptional leadership and service to the university and surrounding community. “These projects are a big part of my enjoyment, why I enjoyed undergrad.”

While at the University of Minnesota, her work took her far away from her community, Uganda to be exact, working with Engineers Without Borders as a Project Lead and Project Resources Officer to lead design, budgeting and community impact analysis of three engineering projects in rural Uganda.

Her group partnered with a community and school, with professional engineers working as mentors for the U of M students. One project focused on designing rainwater harvesting systems at primary schools to provide drinking water which, as Chase notes, “was not readily available to the students. They needed to travel to collect rainwater.”

“I really enjoyed being part of the group,” she says about the mentors, fellow students and those in the community. “There were a lot of great people really dedicated to the school. The school was on the property of a woman’s home. The students started fund-raising and every time we went (back) there were more buildings and students. People were building for the community. It was nice to have something concrete in the end.

“I learned a lot about designing and building real engineering projects that can have an impact in people’s everyday lives,” she adds.

Chase also has teaching responsibilities, a graduate course in fluid mechanics last spring and an undergraduate course in differential equations in the fall of 2019 and 2020. “We are required to do it,” she says. “I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun. Both courses are things I’m interested in. I’m learning again while I’m teaching.”

Distraction came, of course, a little more than a year ago when Covid shut down most university functions. Chase sensed the impending shutdown and reacted accordingly. “I was doing experiments,” she recalls. “I was worried the lab would shut down so I tried to get as much data as I could.” She remembers thinking the disruption would “only last a month or so.” She was able to go back to the lab and resume work last summer. Living off campus, she had three roommates, two of whom left.

At Princeton she is also on the MAE Graduate Student Committee, currently acting as Committee Chair, serving as a liaison between graduate students and the department. She is also a member of Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars, an interdisciplinary group of Princeton graduate students focused on energy and climate research.

Locally, when not in the lab, she likes running and likes going to The Bent Spoon, an artisan ice cream shop on Palmer Square. To this end, she notes that when the day arrives where she potentially leaves Princeton, ice cream will be part of the plan.

“I’ll want a place that’s not too hot and has lots of ice cream.”
-- David Krakow